Battle of the theme parks: Harry Potter v Mickey Mouse

Published on: Sunday, August 21, 2011
Battle of the theme parks: Harry Potter v Mickey Mouse - feature

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With 40 years’ experience, Mickey Mouse has been casting his spell over generations of Orlando thrill-seekers at Walt Disney World Resort but how does he measure up to his upstart Universal rival The Wizarding World of Harry Potter? Nick McGrath, and his six-year-old daughter Aoife, put the two theme parks through their paces…

WALT DISNEY WORLD RESORT

Since opening its centrepiece attraction the Magic Kingdom in 1971, Walt Disney World Resort – which covers 122 sq km (47 sq miles) of Florida swamp and also includes 23 on-site hotels – now boasts a further three full-day parks in the Epcot Centre, Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom, plus a couple of full-day water parks, Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon, and the Downtown Disney entertainment complex, not to mention the dining and event development Disney Boardwalk and the ESPN Wide World Of Sports complex.

Best bits
Dad says…
The astonishing level of detail. From the Mickey Mouse icons on the drain covers to the beautifully designed and pristinely maintained sets, Disney covers all imaginable bases to create a seamless fantasy world. Mesmerising whether you’re 40 like me or turning six like Aoife.

 Aoife…
I loved the Magic Kingdom parades on my sixth birthday because I got to see all my favourite Disney characters including Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Aladdin, Alice in Wonderland, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves and my favourite, Cinderella, who smiled at me when she noticed I was wearing the same dress as her. I also loved making wishes at the evening firework display but I can’t tell you what they were or they won’t come true.

Worst bits
Dad says…
The lack of on-site crèche facilities. If you’re visiting with really young kids – my son is two and a half – the ability to temporarily leave your children with trained childcare experts at rides where they don’t meet the height restrictions would have enabled my wife and I to enjoy more attractions together rather than taking it in turns with Aoife whilst alternating babysitting duties.

Aoife says…
I didn’t like the Mad Tea Party Ride in Fantasyland as the spinning cups made me feel a bit sick, especially when Daddy made them spin extra fast. And Snow White’s Scary Adventures were too scary for me too as I’m only just six. I also didn’t like the wicked witch’s laugh. It was too spooky.

Favourite ride
Dad says…
Thirty years after my first Disney visit, the Space Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad roller coasters still thrilled but the gravity-defying, stomach-churning Twilight Zone Tower of Terror was the only ride that threatened to provoke an impromptu reappearance from my lunch.

Aoife says…
My daddy said I would be really scared on the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and Space Mountain but I wasn’t scared at all, although I did nearly lose my tiara on Space Mountain. My best ride was It’s A Small World where I got to see dancing dolls from all over the world dressed in beautiful costumes. My favourites were the ones from Thailand who were wearing lovely gold hats and dresses.

Character experience
Dad says…
With character spots – where visitors can meet their fictional heroes in the flesh/fabric – liberally dotted around all the parks, paw-shaking photo opportunities were plentiful, and the valiant actors sweating in the Orlando humidity were unfailingly accommodating.

Aoife says…
We had dinner with Chip ‘N’ Dale, Pluto and Goofy, who my brother Art thought was scary, and also got our photos taken with Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck – who flexed his muscles in a funny duck way – and my favourite, Minnie Mouse, who wore pretty clothes and jewellery and felt as soft as a blanket.

The bit I’ll remember most
Dad says…
From the second we set foot in planet Disney, the infectious enthusiasm of the staff made the sense of occasion palpable and – genuine or manufactured – succeeded in making us all feel special, particularly my daughter who, by the end of her birthday, deliriously declared me ‘the best daddy in the world’.

Aoife says…
I loved feeling like a real princess in the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique in Cinderella’s Castle on my birthday. One of the fairy godmothers in training – she’s 200 years old now and will become a proper fairy godmother when she’s 999 – helped me dress like Cinderella.


UNIVERSAL RESORT ORLANDO and THE WIZARDING WORLD OF HARRY POTTER

Turning 21 this year, Florida’s second largest theme park development after Disney, Universal Resort Orlando is made up of two main full-day theme parks, Universal Studios and Islands Of Adventure – of which The Wizarding World Of Harry Potter, which opened in 2010, is the latest addition. The entertainment, shopping and dining complex Universal Citywalk, flanked by three on-site hotels, runs parallel to the two main parks.

Best bits
Dad says…
The near-identical recreation of J K Rowling’s fictional magical world, complete with narrow cobbled streets and imposing gothic architecture. The fictional worlds neighbouring Harry Potter’s Wizarding World – particularly the Technicolor Seuss Landing and the vibrant Toon Lagoon – were also exceptional.

Aoife says…
When I walked through the gates of Harry Potter’s Wizarding World, I thought there would just be rides. I didn’t think I’d see the real castle and it was even better than I’d imagined it and I felt like I was my favourite character Ginny Weasley, especially when I bought her wand. And seeing a real Quidditch pitch was amazing.

Worst bits
Dad says…
Perhaps the Disney experience spoiled me but the Universal staff, although far from rude, didn’t quite have the charm – or perhaps military-like training – of their Disney counterparts. And with such searing heat, a few more totally shaded canopied areas would have been welcomed. And perhaps one more Harry Potter ride would flesh out that world a little.

Aoife says…
I didn’t mind the queues as the rides were all worth the wait and I didn’t even mind that I was too small to go on the Dragon Challenge in Harry Potter land as it looked too scary. I was quite brave on most of the rides but I had to hide my face on the Jurassic Park River Adventure when the big T-Rex nearly ate us up.

Favourite ride
Dad says…
The Dragon Challenge ran the Incredible Hulk Coaster a close second in the roller coaster stakes, and the Forbidden Journey though Hogwarts’ spooky corridors was just pipped by the anarchic Simpsons Ride in the simulator stakes, but Doctor Doom’s Fear Fall drained the most colour from me.

Aoife says…
Flying through Hogwarts on the Forbidden Journey felt like I was actually on a broomstick and I thought the skeleton ghost was going to jump on me at one point, but my favourite rides were actually not in the Harry Potter bit. It was really funny feeling like we were in baby Maggie’s mouth on the Simpsons Ride in Universal Studios and I loved getting very soggy on Popeye and Bluto’s Bilge Rat Barge in the Islands Of Adventure.

Character experience
Dad says…

With the emphasis more on high-octane attractions and imaginative live shows, Universal came a clear second to Disney in terms of circulating characters, but at least I caught a fleeting glimpse of Homer Simpson on a passing float.

Aoife says…
I was hoping to meet more of the Harry Potter characters from the film, especially Ron Weasley and his sister Ginny so it was a shame they weren’t there. The only character I did see there was the train guard from the Hogwarts Express who wasn’t very interesting and wasn’t in the film much anyway, but I did like meeting the real Betty Boop and Woody Woodpecker in Universal Studios.

The bit I’ll remember most
Dad says…
The look of utter wonder on my daughter’s face when she first caught a glimpse of ‘the real Harry Potter castle’. And the piercing pain in my derriere when I realised I’d foolishly shoved my jagged car keys into my back pocket on the buttock-pounding Dragon Challenge roller coaster.

Aoife says…
After my sixth birthday, going to Harry Potter’s world was my second best day ever as it was one of my dreams to see the real Harry Potter castle. And walking round the streets and seeing all the magic shops and creatures felt like I was really part of the story and was actually speechless when I saw it all for the first time.


PRICE COMPARISON

  • A Disney Premium ticket costs £235 for five days, or £246 for seven days. To book visit www.virginholidays.co.uk, or call on 0844 557 3859.
  • A two-park (Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios) one-day ticket costs £97 for adults and £87 for children aged 3-9. Kids under 3 go free.

For more Harry Potter magic, check out World Travel Guide’s Top 5: Places to visit with a Harry Potter theme.